While handling success with grace and humility is a rare trait, the truer measure of a man is how he deals with adversity. In facing the ultimate travail, one’s certain death, Christopher Hitchens displays a stoicism worthy of Marcus Aurelius in Mortality ($14). A collection of his last essays for Vanity Fair before his death in December 2011, Mortality exhibits both the wry wit that made Hitchens a favored author and the British reserve that tempers his chronicle of a body ravaged by terrible disease.
An avowed atheist, Hitchens holds the course of his beliefs to the end, refusing the solace of prayers offered by others. He endures modern medicine’s efforts to save him while they rob him of his joys and talents: sense of taste, writing ability, coherence of mind. Hitchens’ enduring demeanor does not reflect capitulation to the “alien,” as he refers to the cancer spreading throughout his body, but rather a refusal to rail against the unfairness of the universe or turn maudlin as he stares into the abyss. Mortality is both an exemplary guide to dealing with death and a revealing measure of Christopher Hitchens’ life, lived.
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